Thursday, May 27, 2010

Can Denny Bautista and Santiago Casilla Invigorate the Giants Bullpen?

After coming back and beating the Nationals today 5-4, the Giants remained over .500 for the season at 24-22. While the record is still promising, the Giants have struggled in the month of May, alarming considering many of the teams in the NL West who flopped in April are starting to turn it around this month (e.g. Colorado, Los Angeles).

Now, the Giants have offensive problems. No doubt about it. Furthermore, there are concerns with Tim Lincecum as well, especially after his latest six hit, six run, five walk performance in 4.2 IP on Wednesday against the Nationals.

Yet one of the big concerns that has Giants fans up in arms is this: can the bullpen hold up and keep the Giants competitive?

The bullpen can mean the difference between a rebuilding season and a playoff run, and the Giants have experienced this first-hand. In 2008, during their 72-90 season, the Giants bullpen was one of the worst in baseball, sporting a 4.45 ERA (24th in the Majors). In 2009, when the Giants went 88-74 and just missed out on the NL Wild Card, the bullpen posted an ERA of 3.49, second-best in baseball (behind only the Dodgers, who had a bullpen ERA of 3.14).

How are the Giants relievers doing this season? Well, the results have been mixed. Brian Wilson is off to a solid start having converted 12 out of his first 13 saves, and sporting an ERA of 2.45. Furthermore, the Giants have gotten solid performances out of journeyman and former Dodger (God I hate saying that) Guillermo Mota, who has appeared in 18 games this season and holds an ERA of 1.13 and a WHIP of 0.94.

However, after ranking second last year in the Majors, the Giants bullpen currently ranks 10th in the league with a 3.68 team ERA. Furthermore, many Giants relievers who were expected to have an impact this year haven't necessarily gotten off to the best of starts.

Brandon Medders, who is currently on the disabled list, has been a train wreck, as evidenced by his 7.20 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in 14 appearances (granted, his 5.83 FIP suggests that he isn't as bad as his ERA says, but nonetheless, a 5.83 FIP isn't necessarily a sterling number either).

Fireballer Dan Runzler, who burst on the scene in September last year hasn't been much better. While Runzler's strikeout numbers continue to impress (20 strikeouts in 18 IP), his 1.54 BB/K ratio and 83.7 percent contact rate suggests that Runzler may have some command issues that he may need to sort out. Much like Medders, Runzler's FIP (3.77) suggests that he's better than his ERA (5.00), and he does induce a lot of groundballs (1.75 GB/FB ratio). However, considering Runzler is a two pitch pitcher (he throws his fastball 73.8 percent of the time and his slider 25.5 percent of the time) and his velocity has dropped (the average velocity on his fastball has dropped from 94.7 MPH in 2009 to 93.6 MPH this year), Runzler may be regulated to middle relief or mop up duty in the Giants bullpen and may see some time in Fresno to boot.

So, with Medders and Runzler struggling, Sergio Romo going through his usual fits of inconsistency (Romo has a solid BB/K ratio at 3.80 and WHIP at 0.89, but his FIP is unusually high at 4.04 as his HR/FB ratio at 9.4 percent), and with Jeremey Affeldt struggling with his control (5.19 BB/9; 1.40 BB/K ratio), is there anybody in the Giants bullpen of worth other than Mota and Wilson?

There are two candidates who could spark the Giants bullpen:

Denny Bautista and Santiago Casilla.

Now, Bautista and Casilla aren't exactly young and they don't necessarily have track records of success. Both Bautista and Casilla are turning 30 this season and both relievers struggled mightily with their respective teams (Bautista the Pirates; Casilla the A's) last season.

However, Bautista and Casilla throw serious heat and can strike guys out. This year, Bautista is averaging 95.3 MPH on his fastball. Casilla has been even better, averaging 96.7 MPH on his fastball.

If you don't believe me on Casilla, check out his velocity charts from today's game.

That is some serious gas, and can explain why Casilla has six strikeouts in 2.2 IP in 2010.

Bautista has been solid as well in terms of striking guys out. In 7.1 IP, Bautista has 11 strikeouts. Furthermore, he is sporting a contact rate of 74 percent and a swinging strike percentage of 10.3 percent (the league average swinging strike percentage is 8.3 percent).

That being said, it is not as if Bautista and Casilla are perfect. Both have issues with their control. Bautista has a career 5.12 BB/9 and 1.31 BB/K ratio, which isn't exactly comforting. Casilla also has suffered with the same problems, as evidenced by his career 4.49 BB/9 and 1.77 BB/K ratio.

Bautista has suffered in terms of finding the strike zone at times in 2010. This year, Bautista has walked eight batters in 7.1 IP and spots a WHIP of 1.91. Casilla has been solid with only one walk and a WHIP of 0.36. Despite these sterling numbers, Giants fans have to take it with a grain of salt, mainly because it is such a small sample (case in point, his WHIP was 1.78 last year and his BB/K ratio was 1.40 with the Oakland A's).

Are Bautista and Casilla saviors to this Giants bullpen? Probably not. However, both guys throw serious heat and can strike guys out, which is what you want from relievers in your bullpen. With Affeldt's health and effectiveness in question, and Medders' 2009 looking like a fluke, both Bautista and Casilla will be greatly needed to have breakout seasons in 2010.

At this point, I think it's totally possible for both Dominican-born pitchers.

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